Wicomico County might seem like a sleepy patch of the Eastern Shore, known for its poultry farms and wildfowl-art museum.
But it's also home to more than 100 known gang members in the Salisbury area - people from the Crips and Bloods as well as local organizations - with another 700 housed within a nearby correctional facility, said Sheriff Mike Lewis. His office and a Wicomico family outreach program received a combined $219,000 federal grant yesterday to combat the growing problem by developing or continuing anti-gang efforts.
"We needed this [money] badly," Lewis said.
They were two of 11 Maryland entities that applied for and won a total of $1.25 million from the U.S. Justice Department. While Baltimore City and the more populous counties generally received the largest awards, which were capped at $150,000, most of the recipients were from rural areas, where gang activity has been steadily increasing - largely a consequence of regional prisons.
Washington County, which has a population of about 145,000 people, houses a third of Maryland's male inmates in its three correctional facilities. Many ex-prisoners settle in the area, bringing the gang affiliations they forged inside prison to the outside world, said Col. Randy Wilkinson of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which won a $72,461 grant.
The Frederick Police Department, which was awarded more than $82,000, is worried about gangs targeting children for their next generation of members. The Cumberland Police Department, which received $67,500, is focused on preventing women from becoming gang members and aiding those who already are. Harford County will use its $148,000 grant for training and education programs, as well as prosecutions.
"The least effective way to fight gangs is to prosecute," U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said at a news conference. "The most effective way is to stop kids from joining gangs in the first place."
Yesterday's awards were the second round granted since the anti-gang funding program was established in 2006, a pet project of Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. They're designed to halt people from ever reaching the point of prosecution.
"This statewide anti-gang initiative addresses a gang crisis in our neighborhoods that threatens to destroy lives and destroy communities," Mikulski said. "No one can do it alone."